The House of Great Ideas

On breaks, The Kid brought all kind of things home from college.

There were the mountains of dirty laundry.   Binders full of bills.  Sometimes, exotic Vermont ailments, which were then introduced into the Matthews family petri dish.  Occasionally books I “absolutely had to read”, or movies and TV shows that I “absolutely had to see”.

Yeah, there’s cake.

But, The Kid was attending culinary school up there.

So, a lot of the stuff brought south had to do with food—new recipes, new ideas. The first one was simple.  Almost too simple.

Salads.  Before, whenever I’d made a dinner salad, it was a huge, hairy production.  Special trips to the grocery for bags of greens, vegetables sliced just so, eggs or another protein I needed to prepare, and freshly made dressing, usually ranch.As a consequence, we only had salads every couple of months, and in between there would usually be a couple of times where I purchased greens and mushrooms for salad but then something would come up and a week later I’d end up face to face with slimy malodorous lettuces and ‘shrooms that had a decidedly gangrenous quality.The Kid, however, advocated a much more casual, spontaneous approach.  This included buying a row boat-sized container of mixed greens from Costco or BJ’s, a log of goat cheese, and some ready-to-go protein to toss into the mix (I butter-toast and salt a couple pounds of pecans every few months and mix them with dried fruit.  It keeps in the fridge for weeks).  It’s dressed with a bottle of ready-made dressing; I love Trader Joe’s balsamic.

No stress, no prepping,  a salad at a moment’s notice.  It increased my salad consumption ten-fold.Then there was the time my very own shine-hauling mini Richard Petty pulled into our driveway with six or seven cases of homemade pomegranate mead.  Transporting this quantity happens to be a felony in most of the states driven through on the way home.

But it was burrata to which The Kid introduced me that brings us back around to my visit to Raleigh’s Whiskey Kitchen.

Burrata is basically a mozzarella balloon, filled with whole milk ricotta cheese.  This ricotta in no way resembles cottage cheese.  It’s luscious, luxurious, and when spilling out of a sack made from cheese, miraculous. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mad scientists at Whiskey Kitchen serve it on sliced heirloom tomatoes speckled with crispy-fried okra, all resting on a shallow pool of their homemade pesto aioli.  But before any of this happens, they lightly cold smoke the burrata, which gives it a flavor that compels one to just.keep.eating. Their pesto is delicious, with a sauce-like consistency.  This makes it much more versatile, and a silky coating for pasta, unlike most, which can be greasy and is prone to separate.

Here is the Kitchen’s recipe, sized for home cooks.

Whiskey Kitchen Pesto

1QT packed parsley

1QT packed cilantro

1QT packed basil

1QT packed mintWhiskey pesto

1Pnt Canola or salad oil

1Pnt Sunflower seeds

4 cloves garlic

1 C lemon juice

2 Tbl lemon zest

3 tsp salt

2.25tsp black pepper

Blend ingredients in blender just until mixed and smooth.

 To make the aioli, the same 2:1 ratio is used with your favorite brand of mayo (we use Duke’s)If you haven’t been to downtown Raleigh in a while, very interesting things are happening.  There’s unique shopping, museums, and NC legend and lore.  I strongly suggest a trip in the near future that includes a stop at Whiskey Kitchen.

One more tip; I’ve recently discovered their buttermilk pound cake with cream cheese frosting.  Just one slice could make angels sing.  Even angels on strict diets.

Very rare photographic evidence of Victoria’s Secret Angel, Alessandra Ambrosio, near cake. 

It’s totally worth the calories.

Thanks for your time.


Praline Payola

Flying has become so adversarial, stressful, and downright unpleasant, that travelers fully expect to be harassed and assaulted by both the TSA at security, and airline employees. On all sides, common sense has become obsolete. Americans have given away their freedom and dignity with both hands to satisfy the fever dreams of security “experts”, with no identifiable payoff.  And, until we rise up en masse and say we’re not paying one more penny to be folded, spindled and mutilated—that we demand to be treated as human adults and not free-loading hamsters, the institutional abuse will continue.

But, sometimes, folks gotta fly.  Even me, on occasion.  But I dread it.

Back in 2011, The Kid was finishing up freshman year at college in Vermont and Petey and I needed to bring our child and the accumulated miscellany and rubble back down to NC.  Because of time constraints, the plan was to fly up and rent a van to transport child and possessions.On top of all the potential pitfalls and logistic complications, I was stewing over an entirely new possible fly in the travel ointment.

Because of a catastrophically broken leg when The Kid was in elementary school, Petey often needs to use a walking stick.  He has three.

One is a spindly bamboo model.  Nope.

This is not Petey, nor has Petey ever worn white gloves and a top hat.  I suspect this guy might be a magician.  His poor mother.

One is a Scarlet Pimpernel-level cool authentic sword-cane that I purchased for him one Christmas.  Once it arrived I discovered that it’s considered a concealed weapon, and couldn’t even leave the front porch without the commission of a couple of felonies.  So…nopeThe last is a very sturdy hiking/walking stick that’s reliable, strong, and doesn’t make him look like a pretentious fop.

Just one problem, though.  The end screws off, and underneath is a pretty sharp point for hiking in uneven terrain.  But as you may have heard, the TSA have a certain bias against anything sharper than popsicle sticks.

So, what to do?I decided to employ the time-honored tradition of bribery.

I had already planned on taking a batch of my company cheese straws and creamy pecan pralines for The Kid to share with friends on their last night in the dorm.  I made up a few goody bags to pass around to the TSA, and anybody else who looked like they had any possible authority over us getting to the Green Mountain State.

Creamy Pecan Pralinespecan pralines    *3 cups chopped pecans

    * 2 cups light brown sugar, packed

    * 1 cup granulated sugar

    * 1 ½ cups heavy cream

    * 1/3 cup whole milk

    * 6 tablespoons butter, salted

    * 1 ½ teaspoons salt

    * 1 vanilla bean, scraped


Toast pecans:

Heat oven to 350°. Spread chopped pecans out on large baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the chopped pecans are lightly browned and aromatic.In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, to 230°. Add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, to 236° F.

Remove from heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add vanilla beans and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Using a tablespoon or small cookie scoop, spoon the pralines onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. If the mixture becomes grainy, heat and stir over medium heat for a few seconds, or until it can be easily scooped and dropped.Makes about 4 dozen.

Did they work?

Well, I’ll put it this way.  Petey still has his stick, and The Kid is not stuck in Vermont, waiting for a ride home.

Thanks for your time.

I’ll get you, my praline


kateys walk 2

The view near The Kid’s house in Woodstock.


After The Kid finished freshman year of college up in Vermont, an internship was landed in Woodstock, NY.  Petey and I flew up, and would rent a car to lug child and possessions to a Craigslist-rented apartment in the Empire state.

*Here’s a piece of interesting trivia that I learned up there: the famous “Summer of Love” festival was not actually in Woodstock NY, but 60 miles southwest, in Bethel NY.  And if every baby boomer that claims to have been there really was, no human under the age of thirty would have been present anywhere else on the planet that weekend.  (Actually, I did go to school with a girl who was one of those naked toddlers in attendance, but she has no memory of it; coincidentally neither do many of the adult concert-goers.)

Anyway, back to the airport…Petey uses a walking stick, and I was concerned that it would be confiscated by the TSA.  I’d done bounteous research, but the rules as written were vague, and open to wide interpretation.  I was a little nervous that a grouchy agent with a toothache or one who’d gotten a call from the IRS would nix the cane, and my husband would be physically penalized for the duration.

I’d planned to make some treats to take up for The Kid to share with friends.  So, I decided to put together goody bags full of my homemade cheese wafers and my creamy, delicious pecan pralines to hand out at security. I was hoping this good will gesture would facilitate smooth sailing through the line.

It worked.

By the time Petey, his cane, and I got through security, we were on a first-name basis with the agents.  We’d reduced one sweet woman to tears because the pralines reminded her so much of the ones her dearly departed granny used to make for holidays and special occasions.

Vanilla Bean Pecan Pralines

pralines3 cups broken pecans

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

 1/3 cup whole milk

 6 tablespoons butter, salted

 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Toast pecans:

Place pecan pieces in a dry skillet on medium.  Stirring constantly, cook until color deepens and they’re aromatic.  Remove from heat, and let cool.

In medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 230°. Discard pod, lower heat slightly, add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it gets to 236°. Remove from heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add vanilla bean scrapings and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, spoon the pralines onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. If the mixture becomes stiff or grainy, return to burner and stir over medium heat until it can be easily scooped and dropped.

Makes 4 dozen.They were a hit in Montpelier, too.

Our first night in Vermont we were in a hotel, but The Kid was staying at the dorm to finish packing.  A school friend, Chase (Northerner and praline neophyte), came over to hang out with our child.  Despite dire warnings of the richness of the candy, and to his everlasting regret, he polished off the remaining 30 pralines in the time it took to watch Hot Tub Tome Machine.

You ever seen a praline hangover?

It ain’t pretty.

Representation–not The Kid’s school friend.

Thanks for your time.